free ebooks

A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Definitively installed at Ferney


_Essai sur l'Histoire generale et les Moeurs_ was one of the first broadsides of this new anti-religious crusade. "Voltaire will never write a good history," Montesquieu used to say: "he is like the monks, who do not write for the subject of which they treat, but for the glory of their order: Voltaire writes for his convent." The same intention betrayed itself in every sort of work that issued at that time from the hermitage of Delices, the poem on _Le Tremblement de Terre de Lisbonne,_ the drama of _Socrate,_ the satire of the _Pauvre Diable,_ the sad story of _Candide,_ led the way to a series of publications every day more and more violent against the Christian faith. The tragedy of _L' Orphelin de la Chine_ and that of _Tancrede,_ the quarrels with Freron, with Lefranc de Pompignan, and lastly with Jean Jacques Rousseau, did not satiate the devouring activity of the Patriarch, as he was called by the knot of philosophers. Definitively installed at Ferney, Voltaire took to building, planting, farming. He established round his castle a small industrial colony, for whose produce he strove to get a market everywhere. "Our design," he used to say, "is to ruin the trade of Geneva in a pious spirit." Ferney, moreover, held grand and numerously attended receptions; Madame Denis played her uncle's pieces on a stage which the latter had ordered to be built, and which caused as much disquietude to the austere Genevese as to Jean Jacques Rousseau. It was on account of Voltaire's
theatrical representations that Rousseau wrote his _Lettre centre les Spectacles_. "I love you not, sir," wrote Rousseau to Voltaire: "you have done me such wrongs as were calculated to touch me most deeply. You have ruined Geneva in requital of the asylum you have found there." Geneva was about to banish Rousseau before long, and Voltaire had his own share of responsibility in this act of severity so opposed to his general and avowed principles. Voltaire was angry with Rousseau, whom he accused of having betrayed the cause of philosophy; he was, as usual, hurried away by the passion of the moment, when he wrote, speaking of the exile, "I give you my word that if this blackguard (_polisson_) of a Jean Jacques should dream of coming (to Geneva), he would run great risk of mounting a ladder which would not be that of Fortune." At the very same time Rousseau was saying, "What have I done to bring upon myself the persecution of M. de Voltaire? And what worse have I to fear from him? Would M. de Buffon have me soften this tiger thirsting for my blood? He knows very well that nothing ever appeases or softens the fury of tigers; if I were to crawl upon the ground before Voltaire, he would triumph thereat, no doubt, but he would rend me none the less. Basenesses would dishonor me, but would not save me. Sir, I can suffer, I hope to learn how to die, and he who knows how to do that has never need to be a dastard."

Rousseau was high-flown and tragic; Voltaire was cruel in his contemptuous levity; but the contrast between the two philosophers was even greater in the depths of them than on. the surface. Rousseau took his own words seriously, even when he was mad, and his conduct was sure to belie them before long. He was the precursor of an impassioned and serious age, going to extremes in idea and placing deeds after words. In spite of occasional reticence dictated by sound sense, Voltaire had abandoned himself entirely in his old age to that school of philosophy, young, ardent, full of hope and illusions, which would fain pull down everything before it knew what it could set up, and the actions of which were not always in accordance with principles. "The men were inferior to their ideas." President De Brosses was justified in writing to Voltaire, "I only wish you had in your heart a half-quarter of the morality and philosophy contained in your works." Deprived of the counterpoise of political liberty, the emancipation of thought in the reign of Louis XV. had become at one and the same time a danger and a source of profound illusions; people thought that they did what they said, and that they meant what they wrote, but the time of actions and consequences had not yet come; Voltaire applauded the severities against Rousseau, and still he was quite ready to offer him an asylum at Ferney; he wrote to D'Alembert, "I am engaged in sending a priest to the galleys," at the very moment when he was bringing eternal honor to his name by the generous zeal which led him to protect the memory and the family of the unfortunate people named Calas.

eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us